• Approves new measures to curb terrorism
• No going back on arrest of Ekpeyong, Oke, Magu insists
• Senate asks president to wade into DSS, EFCC face-off, to probe clash
Omololu Ogunmade and Damilola Oyedele in Abuja
Citing gaps in the management of recovered assets from looters of the treasury, President Muhammadu Buhari Wednesday inaugurated a three-man committee to audit all accounts containing recovered assets by agencies of the federal government.
Members of the committee are Mr. Olufemi Lijadu, Mrs. Gloria Bibigha and Mr. Mohammed Nami.
The president also approved the setting up of an intelligence fusion centre in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, for the purpose of gathering and sharing intelligence among the security agencies in the country and bolstering efforts to eliminate Boko Haram terrorists in the North-east.
In one of the worst attacks in recent times, a suicide bomber on Monday detonated a bomb inside a mosque in Mubi, Adamawa State, resulting in the deaths of 23 persons and several injured.
The inauguration of the recovered assets audit panel came just as the acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Ibrahim Magu, after the inauguration, vowed that his agency was determined to bring the former Director-General of the Department of State Services (DSS), Mr. Ita Ekpeyong, and the ex-head of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) Mr. Ayo Oke, to justice.
Magu was reacting to the stand-off for several hours in Abuja between his operatives and those of the DSS and NIA on Monday, when the EFCC operatives tried to arrest Ekpenyong and Oke, but were thwarted by heavily armed officials of the two intelligence agencies.
Ekpenyong was invited by the EFCC recently to respond to allegations of alleged corruption and arms procurement when he was the head of the DSS while Oke is being investigated over the discovery of $43.4 million in a luxury apartment in Ikoyi, Lagos, by the EFCC.
Both men had refused to honour the invitation of the EFCC.
However, the Senate Wednesday urged Buhari to wade into the brewing crises between the EFCC and DSS, in order to avert an impending national embarrassment.
The president, who inaugurated the audit committee in the Office of the First Lady’s Conference Hall in the Presidential Villa, tasked members of the committee to conclude their assignment within four weeks and submit the report directly to his office.
He also directed the committee to carry out the audit on each account from the day of its opening up to April this year, saying the need to audit such accounts had become compelling in view of the involvement of various agencies of government in asset recoveries and the necessity to ensure that such assets are not only accounted for, but also managed with a sense of transparency.
According to him, the measure to launch the assets recovery crusade by this administration was the fallout of the large-scale mismanagement and misappropriation of public assets by previous administrations, pointing out that the efforts made so far were a bold statement that public resources will no longer find their ways into private accounts.
He further noted that the need to audit the accounts arose from the need to ensure that all returns from stolen assets were in tandem with actual recoveries made by government agencies and consequently to ensure that such recovered assets are not looted again by unscrupulous individuals. He said the goal was also necessitated by the “existing gaps” in the management and accountability of recovered assets.
He instructed all affected agencies of government and banks to effectively cooperate with the committee with a view to enabling it to discharge its responsibility efficiently and consequently set the stage for accountability in the management of the nation’s resources.
He said the committee was empowered to explore the existence of the extant laws in the discharge of its assignment and wherever required, it should secure the intervention of the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, to compel any recalcitrant person to provide information through a legal process.
“Members of the committee may recall that pursuant to the resolve of this administration since its inception to pursue a strong and effective anti-corruption regime, and in view of the multiple cases of mismanaged and misappropriated national assets identified by this administration upon our assumption of office, the federal government embarked on tracing and recovery of all such stolen assets within and outside Nigeria, using all legal and diplomatic resources at our disposal.
“The gains of our initiatives over the past two and a half years have been very obvious to all Nigerians. This is clear from the level of investigation, prosecution and forfeitures involving both public and private sector officials in the country.
“The message has therefore been passed out loud and clear that never again as a nation are we going to allow the wanton diversion and embezzlement of public funds to private pockets.
“Nigerians will further recall that pursuant to requisite directives, recovered assets are progressively being returned to designated accounts by the anti-graft agencies and other agencies of government involved in the process.
“In the course of implementing this exercise and given the number of agencies that are concurrently pursuing specialised initiatives and making recoveries for government, it has become obvious that fundamental gaps still exist in ensuring that the recovered assets are accounted for, and managed in an accurate, transparent and logical manner.
“It was in realisation of this and due to our determination to ensure that in pursuing the anti-graft war, we do not create new room for dishonorable conduct by any individual or agency that I directed earlier in the year that all agencies should send in detailed reports of all their recovered assets as at March, 2017.
“The decision to inaugurate this Audit Committee on the Recovery and Management of Stolen Assets within and outside Nigeria today is therefore the next step in ensuring that all returns filed by the various agencies are accurate and consistent with actual recoveries made.
“The committee, in essence, is therefore expected to judiciously undertake an audit of all recovery accounts established by government agencies from the date of opening such accounts up to 10th April, 2017. “The details of the committee’s functions are as set out in your terms of reference.
“I congratulate all members of the committee on your appointment which is another opportunity for you all to serve your country. I therefore urge you to perform your duties diligently in the best interests of Nigeria.
“I hereby direct and request all relevant ministries, departments and agencies, banks, and companies to give the committee full cooperation as your assignment is crucial not only to the harvesting of needed resources for our national development but also in setting out a fresh template of public accountability.
“Where it becomes necessary, the committee will of course rely on existing laws to compel the production of information and will also have the benefit of necessary interventions by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice in obtaining such information through legal processes, where so required.
“The committee is hereby given a time frame of four weeks to finish this assignment and submit its report to my office. I look forward to receiving your report and recommendations in due course and I wish you the best of luck in this assignment,” he submitted.
Buhari also Wednesday ordered a military crackdown on bandits operating in the rural communities in Zamfara State, following fresh attacks on some communities in Shinkafi and Maradun Local Government Areas.
A statement by his media aide, Malam Garba Shehu, said that in order to enable the army carry out this new mandate, the president has approved the request of the Minister of Defence, Brig-Gen. Mansur Dan Ali (rtd), for the stationing of a full battalion of Special Forces in Zamfara State, and the operationalisation of the newly-established 8 Division of the Nigerian Army in Sokoto in the new Order of Battle (OBAT).
Shehu said the president also approved the movement of the 1 Brigade of the Nigerian Army from Sokoto to Gusau upon the take-off of the 8 Division.
According to Shehu, to tackle the desperate actions of Boko Haram terrorists in the North-east, through the use of mostly female, underage girls as suicide bombers, Buhari equally approved the setting up of an intelligence fusion centre in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, for the purpose of gathering and sharing intelligence among the security agencies in the country.
He said this phase of the war will be intelligence-driven and the new centre was expected to intensify harvesting and sharing of intelligence so as to bring to an early closure the desperate last-minute activities of the terrorists.
Magu Adamant on Arrests
Meanwhile, the acting chairman of the EFCC has said that his commission is determined to bring the former directors general of the DSS and NIA to justice.
DSS and NIA operatives on Monday had prevented the arrest of both men who failed to honour the invitation of the anti-graft agency.
While EFCC invited Ekpeyong over his alleged role in the arms scam involving Sambo Dasuki, the ex-head of the NIA Oke was summoned over the $43.4 million discovered in an apartment in Ikoyi, Lagos.
Following their absence at the commission’s headquarters, officials of the EFCC stormed the residences of the former heads of the agencies but were prevented from gaining access to their compounds.
The clash between the security agencies affected residents of Mamman Nasir Street in the Asokoro area of Abuja, where Ekpeyong and Oke reside.
Speaking with State House correspondents after Buhari had inaugurated the committee to audit recovered loot, Magu said the law must take its course.
He said the anti-graft agency had concrete evidence against both men.
“We are not discouraged at all. The law must take its course; nobody is above the law,” he said.
“There must be reasons, strong reasons, before we go for arrest.”
When he was asked if he was discouraged by the actions of the DSS and NIA, Magu said: “Never, never! I’m not discouraged but rather energised to do more. I am telling you, nobody is above the law.”
Senate: Resolve Inter-agency Discord
In its reaction to the stand-off between the agencies of government, the Senate Wednesday urged the president to wade into the crisis of confidence between the EFCC and DSS to avert an impending national embarrassment.
The lawmakers also resolved to investigate the circumstances of Monday’s stand-off between operatives of the agencies during the failed bid by the EFCC to arrest Ekpeyong and Oke.
The matter was raised at plenary by Senator Dino Melaye (Kogi, APC) who said the drama by the armed operatives created tension in the area for residents who were prevented from accessing their homes.
“Same yesterday (Monday), the EFCC wanted to arrest the former DG of NIA, Mr. Oke. Also, the officers of the National Intelligence Agency stopped that arrest.
“We will recall that the director-general of the DSS had written this Senate before now on Mr. Magu, the chairman of EFCC.
“We are not here to say who is to blame but we are being embarrassed by the sister agencies that engaged in fisticuffs. This is a recipe for national disaster,” Melaye said.
Senator Abiodun Olujimi (Ekiti, PDP) said the modus operandi employed by the EFCC was the wrong approach.
“The truth is you cannot go to the house of a security agent, a man who has kept the secrets of Nigeria for so long, and arrest him like a chicken.
“We are seeing gross irresponsibility in government. We are calling on Mr. President, he has to sit up, to call these agencies to order.
“Nobody is in charge of this government, and somebody needs to be in charge,” she added.
Olujimi also recalled that Magu’s nomination was rejected by the Senate, yet he had been kept on by the president.
End Obstruction of Justice, Says SERAP
Also wading into the issue Wednesday, a leading civil society group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), condemned the face-off between EFCC officials and officials of the DSS and those of NIA, saying it was counter-productive to the fight against grand corruption.
It also urged the government to urgently instruct the leadership of the DSS and NIA to allow the anti-corruption agencies to carry out their mandate without any interference whatsoever.
In a statement signed by SERAP’s deputy director Timothy Adewale, the organisation said: “Preventing the arrest of a former Director-General of the Department of State Services, Mr. Ita Ekpeyong, and a former Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency, Ambassador Ayo Oke, so that they are unavailable to answer the charges of corruption against them amounts to abuse of power and obstruction of justice.
“It is patently contrary to Nigerian laws and international standards such as the UN Convention against Corruption to which Nigeria is a state party.”
The statement added: “Nothing more fundamentally undermines public confidence in the fight against grand corruption and trust in government than to see state security agencies paid for by public funds apparently aiding and abetting those suspected of engaging in corruption to escape justice.
“Obstructing the work of anti-corruption agencies is a text-book case of interference with the orderly administration of law and justice, which can send a particularly damaging message that the government may not be truly committed to the fight against corruption.
“This may in turn affect the government’s whistle-blower policy and discourage the public from coming forward and providing the authorities with useful evidence of grand corruption.
“By moving speedily to stop this kind of behaviour by the DSS and NIA officials, Buhari would be making clear that under his watch those accused of grand corruption would not be allowed to circumvent the law no matter their status in the society.
“Protecting suspected perpetrators from facing justice for corruption may suggest that officials of the DSS and NIA are trying to cover up allegations of corruption against those involved.
“Fighting corruption is not just for the EFCC alone or any corruption-specific mandate agencies but it is for all state security officials and law enforcement agencies to cooperate and work together to support the government to achieve its oft-repeated commitment to combat grand corruption and impunity of perpetrators.
“Buhari must wade in to end this face-off if his government is to successfully stop the spread of corruption in the country and protect the integrity and authority of anti-corruption agencies.”